Wednesday, March 20, 2024

In Praise of a Huntress Moon

And the sky en vidrios corúscat, multisplending;
O sake us for God, and mend us for bendas, bensittay!
Say clearly what you mean, before you end your say.

Look where the vultures ride the thermals, where you can
or can't see
the waves of air they ride on, hypérvolant and vigilant:
if we love to watch them, it's because we love to watch

the things we can't quite see. Mr God is like that: you find
the lint from his pockets, but his hands are always elsewhere.
I would not spend a lot of time 
turning inside out the cloth, or checking all the seams.

Bang! this damn tambourine, and sing a song of praise,
song of ending, song of nightfall, the iridéssing of default,
when the sky is violet lavender and fades, surprised
by such a clair à voyant, clair à voyaging moon.

Monday, March 18, 2024


Time is our home and death is our friend

-- Iain McGilchrist,

Knock when you come to the west door; be sure
to touch the river pebble in your pocket 
for luck; forget your excuses. 
Just answer the questions best you can.
No one is trying to trick you here.

Today the long road, east and west, was tilted
to be level with the sun. I guess you were busy
with your pry-bar, Archimede! 
That at least was an easy one to solve.
Lay it down on me: pull as hard as you like.

That metal crossbeam catches the morning sun: 
even second-hand, these tines of light 
pull gently every strand of me apart:
the brisket of me would fall from the ribs 
at a nudge. I have been a long time in the pot.
They say a friend might happen by for a meal,
and welcome. I have kept house untidily:
but friends will forgive the debris of a lived-in life.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

The History of Smoking. Not parsimony

‘You do not know your danger, Théoden,’ interrupted Gandalf. ‘These hobbits will sit on the edge of ruin and discuss the pleasures of the table, or the small doings of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and remoter cousins to the ninth degree, if you encourage them with undue patience. Some other time would be more fitting for the history of smoking.’ 

It adds to my pleasure in this passage that the enjoyment of tobacco is one of the many things regarded with puritanical horror by my people. It might shorten your life. Horrors! (As though a short life was worth less than a long. Lung cancer is a hard way to exit, I acknowledge: but many of the exits are hard.)

I don't, as it happens, smoke: I share the hatred of the corporate deceit about the health risks of smoking, and I prefer you to smoke out of doors and away from the cradles of my grandchildren. But so long as you have the facts fairly in front of you, I don't have the slightest desire to stop you -- let alone to prevent you from speaking about it because we're sitting on the edge of ruin. Where else have we ever sat?


And the bell, ringing. "What I do is me: for that I came."

Life, in its essence, is a making new: a wholly superfluous, superabundant, self-overflowing -- an exuberant, self-delighting process of differentiation into ever more astonishing forms, an unending dance, in which we are lucky enough to find ourselves caught up -- not just, as the left hemisphere cannot help but see it, a series of survival problems to conquer. If reality is ultimately just an eternal, unchanging, perfect unity, as some philosophies seem to suggest, life is going the wrong way about making that clear. To the degree that we can discern any governing principle to the cosmos, it is not going to be parsimony.

Iain McGilchrist, The Matter With Things, p 853

Wednesday, March 06, 2024


The clouds have not quite lost their grip on the mountain's hair
blow though the wind blows, but
the fall leans away and misses the splash pool: March
is master here.

The god whispers at my ear, rapidly and in Greek I cannot catch
some dialect of Olympus no doubt
why send a messenger I can't understand? Do not fear but bring
these three as gifts...

But the slap on my face will do, in place of understanding, the sting
of celestial fingers on my face;
swim in the Sound in spring and the jellyfish will lay their tentacles
across your nose and cheek, just so:

many messengers, one message. You are asleep at your post. Little enough
We've asked of you:
Not even to understand: just to listen. The clouds tear free; red weals
on the face of the mountain,

which treads water and gasps. The swell is pale gray, mottled with white;
this time of year snags
buck silver and even the seals show them some respect: it is early,
too early: but even now too late.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Again, The Matter With Things

The Matter With Things
is two weighty volumes, some 1,500 heavily footnoted pages, not even counting the appendices; and you might think I would have finished it with a sigh of relief, and turned to something else. Instead, I turned instantly back to the beginning, and began again.

I read ten or fifteen pages a day, in the portion of my sacrosanct morning time dedicated to demanding reading. I'm halfway through again, which means I've been reading this book for four months, without ever the slightest desire to desist or turn to something else.

(I guess scrupulous accuracy requires m to qualify this by saying that when I turned back to the beginning, really I turned to the beginning of Part Two: Part One is a fresh setting-forth of his brain hemisphere hypothesis, which I already knew well from The Master and his Emissary, so I skipped reading it again.)

It is just such an entertaining book, and so full of things! There's a hint of those old absorbing Medieval encyclopedias, that are stuffed full of fascinations: but unlike them, this is a sustained coherent argument that makes more sense of the world -- and what is presently the matter with it -- than any twenty other books I have ever read. To stay in the pedantic and literal mode -- the fact that it's ten times longer than most books still leaves it with twice the concentration of value per page. I opened the book today at page 766, and found this, speaking of the importance of negation:

It is not often enough remarked that science establishes what is not the case; that we are propelled into philosophy similarly, by the feeling that something widely held to be the case cannot, in reality, be the case. p 766

And on the facing page, speaking of Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy, this anecdote:

There is a story told of a Fellow of Merton College, a mathematician, who was irritated by the attention paid to J.R.R. Tolkien, a Fellow of the same Oxford college, by the fawning guests of other Fellows. One day in the Common Room yet another guest was introduced to the great man, and gushed, 'Oh, Professor Tolkien, I do so admire your writing, it's so -- so full of imagination!' The mathematician could bear it no longer, and from behind a newspaper was heard to snort indignantly: 'Imagination? Imagination?! Made it all up.' p 767